Iceland: Icelandic Beer, Near-Beer and Malt Drinks

Icelandic beer – Where can you get a decent real beer in Iceland?  I don’t know.  I never saw one.  Of course we were camping and avoided Reykjavik entirely and didn’t eat out.  Our beer choices were determined by what ever the Bonus or Netto supermarkets had or the N1 gas station convenience stores.

Note: Netto sold a pint of beer for 95kr.  N1 typically would be around $3kr so stock up at the big supermarkets.

Icelandic brewed beers.
Icelandic brewed beers.

In the N1 stations and out of the way supermarkets your choices are slim.  Mostly Gull, Thule, Viking, Egilis Pilsner, Tuborg from Denmark or Carlsberg.

If you like Budweiser or “popular beers” like Natural Light, Coors or similar pale, near-water type pilsner beer then you are heaven.  If you are into craft brews and beer with actual flavor, then you are in hell.

The good news is the beers are typically sold in large 50cl packages.  Bad news is the highest alcohol content seems to be 2.25% – in other words half the alcohol content of a typical American standard beer and way less than some craft brews.  Think of it like the watered beer you’d get at a baseball game in the USA.

Not only that but there are also .5% beers so you have to really read the labels to know what you are getting.  To get any relaxing buzz you’d have to drink a lot of these tall boys and probably be peeing all night.   So as a refreshing alternative to water, these beers are alright.  Just don’t think you’ll be sipping anything special.

“In Iceland alcoholic beer is only sold in the stores of the state alcohol monopoly ÁTVR and at licensed restaurants and bars. Any drink sold at grocery stores must therefore have lower alcohol content than 2.25%. This means that the cans which look like beer cans, labelled Pilsner are not beer: They contain a virtually non-alcoholic beverage which might look and taste like a very light beer, but its consumption will certainly not have the same effect as proper beer!”

Malt beverages that don’t have any alcohol are usually stocked right next to the beer and are an entirely different taste experience.  They even have a malt + orange soda flavor combo called Malt & Appelsín in orange cans.

“No Icelandic Christmas would be complete without it. A carbonated, non-alcoholic blend of orange soda and “Malt Extrakt,” a drink some have compared to sweet, unfermented Guinness. Now available pre-mixed from Egil’s beverage company.”

Try it, it is actually rather good and can be enjoyed year round.

Iceland’s Beer Restrictions, Prohibition and Post-Prohibition

  • In a 1908 referendum, 60.1% of voters approved a complete ban on alcohol set to take effect on January 1, 1915.
  • Public support for the complete ban eventually began to fade and, in a 1933 referendum, 57.7% of voters approved lifting the ban.
  • In May 1988, the Althing passed legislation legalizing beer above 2.25% ABV. The restrictions were lifted on March 1, 1989.
  • The lifting of restrictions on beer is celebrated as Beer Day on March 1.
  • Real beer can only be sold at state liquor stores!